Three Colville tribal members won a Native American Music Award for Best Rap Hip Hop Music Video at the awards ceremony Nov. 2 in Niagara Falls, New York.

James Pakootas, Daniel Nanamkin, and Tony Louie won the “Nammy” award for the video for the song “Break These Chains,” which is available to view on Youtube and will be linked to in the online edition of this article at

Louie performs under his own name, while Pakootas performs under the name Just Jamez, and Daniel Nanamkin performs under the name Big D.

James is a professional speaker, producer, and artist; Louie is a professional artist focused primarily on country and blues music; and Nanamkin does IT work for local tribal casinos.

The video shows the trio in the Nespelem area and other nearby locations along the Columbia River, rapping, while other shots show them and others walking around the area, drumming, playing basketball, and more.

Aerial shots from a drone are used in the video as well.

“Break These Chains is about overcoming any obstacles or circumstances that may arise in our lives,” the description on the Youtube video reads. “Powerful lyrics paired with captivating visuals tell a story of elevating our own state of mind, and show how our Native Culture is a pathway to healing.”

The description goes on to thank contributors to the music video: “John Crown for his handiwork behind the camera, Rich Williams for his craftsmanship behind the drone footage, Don James from Dosa Grove for editing these shots, J. Scott from Perfectionist Music Group for the instrumental, T.S The Solution from Panoramic Dreams for his professionalism in audio engineering, and D-Sane for mastering the track.”

Pakootas explained to The Star the history behind the song, describing a car accident in 2015 in which he lost the use of his right arm, which sent him into a dark time of depression and thoughts of suicide. He thanks his mother, Laura Pakootas, for helping him through it.

“She was present. She listened,” he said about his mother. “A great model of how to be there for someone when they’re going through something like that.”

“The next morning I felt like, man, I have to fight for something, for my life; I have to find something to live for,” he said. He then found the instrumental of the song online, and wrote his verse for the song. “It was a message for myself,” he said, “trying to pep talk myself.”

“My growth depends on my choices/I make mistakes but I’m human,” Pakootas raps on the song.

Pakootas got out of jail, and another dark period of his life, in the spring of 2017, when he was photographed by Crown, who would later do camera work for the music video.

Pakootas described himself then as a one-armed dishwasher working at The Melody restaurant in Coulee Dam, while Louis was mowing lawns for Oasis Lawn Care and realized Pakootas had worked on songs Louis had listened to growing up.

The two found common ground on music, and Louis became involved in the “Break The Chains” project.

Pakootas had written a post about loneliness on his Facebook page, to which Nanamkin responded. The two had known each other for years, had made music together in the past, had gone through similar struggles, and both were cleaning up their lives, becoming advocates of sobriety.

The pair had had the goal of winning a NAMA years prior. Now with Louis, they made that the goal for “Break The Chains.”

Louis came up with a new hook for the song, a powwow chant, and recorded it while Pakootas was out getting lunch.

Pakootas was blown away when he came back and heard it.

“I’m always looking to tie culture into contemporary music,” he said.

Crown was brought in to shoot the video, and Williams was known to shoot drone footage.

“We really liked his eye and he had a certain vision for the air,” Pakootas said of Crown. “It was a natural fit to bring him in and get him recognition for his work.”

The trio of rappers, joined by Pakootas’ mother and Louie’s mother Chris Shaffer, flew to the ceremony in Niagara, where other Colville tribal members, Cody Miller of Unitary Apparel, and Joel Boyd of the Colville Business Council, presented the award.

“It was just pure fulfillment and excitement,” Pakootas said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

A clip from their music video.

As an Indigenous community leader, [Pakootas] coordinates events, delivers keynote speeches, trains emerging artists, facilitates workshops, mentors our youth, and empowers our future,” a press release from Walrus Arts Management & Consulting reads. “James provides a fresh look into the world of addiction and substance abuse. More importantly, his mission is to influence change by providing his unique perspective on recovery, prevention, resiliency, having hope despite trauma, and how culture can bring healing from all of it. The focus of his craft gradually became an emulation of the street lifestyle he was living, which came across in his music. This perpetuated negative lifestyle behaviors, not only in his own walk, but [in] others that followed in his footsteps. His new focus is to educate, uplift, and inspire the world around him to never give up despite whatever circumstances they may be faced with, and to climb out of the life of criminal behavior and addiction.”

Pakootas said that an event to help raise funds for the expenses of the trip to Niagara Falls is in the works and will include a silent auction, a raffle for a beaded medallion, and a spaghetti feed.

A date is yet to be set for that event.

Pakootas can be followed on Facebook at where updates on that event will be posted.